Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Signs of Change? At-Home and Breadwinner Parents' Housework and Child-Care Time

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Signs of Change? At-Home and Breadwinner Parents' Housework and Child-Care Time

Article excerpt

Social analysts claim that increases in numbers of breadwinner mothers and at-home fathers are evidence of a shift in how gender shapes contemporary work and family life (Mundy, 2012; Rosin, 2010; Smith, 2009). Few scholars dispute that more mothers are working and, sometimes, out-earning their male partners as more fathers take on increased responsibility at home (in limited cases leaving employment altogether to care for their children). However, whether these shifts are evidence of significant changes in the embedded institutional and cultural forces that support gender inequality is not clear. Indeed, some prominent scholars have argued that change in gendered social systems is uneven, and, perhaps stalled (Coontz, 2013; England, 2010) and that much of the breakdown in gender progress is rooted in the organization of intimate relationships and family life (England, 2010).

Parenthood is a key family process shaping the adoption and maintenance of more gender-traditional work and family attitudes and behavior (Bianchi, Sayer, Milkie, & Robinson, 2012; Boeckmann, Misra, & Budig, 2015). Both structural and cultural factors play a role in maintaining the relationship between parenthood and gender-traditional work and family arrangements. State policies that support male breadwinner and female caregiver families (Crompton, 1999; Lewis, 2001), a gender wage gap that favors men (Misra & Murray-Close, 2014), the ability to access quality paid child care (Boeckmann et al., 2014), and the availability of cultural support for working mothers or caregiving fathers (Boeckmann etal., 2015; Kramer & Kramer, 2016) all influence parents' participation in paid work and caregiving.

These factors likely contribute to the relatively small number of parents who take on roles that run counter to gender expectations. As of 2013, just 15.1% of married mothers were the family breadwinner in their households (Wang, Parker, & Taylor, 2013). Primary caregiving fathers are even more rare; less than 5% of fathers were "at home" full-time in 2015 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). Thus, married breadwinner mothers and their at-home father counterparts represent an unusual family type whose work-family arrangements deviate from those of most married-couple families, the majority of whom are in dual-earner arrangements (Kramer, Kelly, & McColloch, 2015). Alternatively, although the overall numbers of parents in these gender-atypical arrangements are small, the recent growth in couples who adopt them may suggest eroding support for more gender-traditional attitudes and behaviors.

How parents divide time in paid and unpaid work is one measure of gender inequality. A wealth of studies show that, although overall time in paid and unpaid work is relatively equal across married parents, mothers spend a higher proportion of their time in unpaid work when compared with fathers (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2007). Scholarship focused on better understanding this division highlights that both time availability and relative earnings differences help explain why women do more unpaid work and men do less (Raley, Bianchi, & Wang, 2012; Sullivan, 2011). However, among individuals in unusual family forms, such as unemployed men married to full-time working women, research sometimes uncovers results that run counter to explanations of time availability or bargaining power linked to earnings and point to the role of gender in shaping the household division of labor (Bittman, England, Folbre, Sayer, & Matheson, 2003; Brines, 1994; Gough & Killewald, 2011; Schneider, 2011). Further investigation of time spent in unpaid work among parents in these unusual work and family arrangements may help us better understand when and how time, money, and gender come into play in parents' decision making and behavior. In addition, because many investigations focus on time in housework only, further investigation of these processes in shaping child-care time is warranted. …

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